The Boston Celtics were in the middle of a 16-game winning streak when they beat the Los Angeles Lakers earlier this season. Heading into their rematch on Tuesday night at Staples Center, the Celtics are on the verge of losing four in a row for the first time in nearly two years.
Boston (34-13) is reeling from three straight losses at home, most recently a 103-95 defeat Saturday night against the Orlando Magic, who had lost 17 of their previous 19 games.
The Celtics are determined to halt the losing streak at three.
"In my eyes, I feel like we're fighting for our lives right now," Celtics forward Al Horford told the Boston Herald on Monday. "That has to be our mindset going into (Tuesday's) game, and we'll take it a game at a time, focus on (the Lakers) and make sure we come out with a lot of energy and that we're able to sustain it throughout the game."
The Lakers (17-29) have regrouped following a nine-game losing streak and won their past two games and six of eight. They matched their largest margin of victory in a 127-107 win against the visiting New York Knicks on Sunday.
Lakers coach Luke Walton saw better results when he removed his starters while trailing by four points early in the third quarter against New York and inserted rookies Alex Caruso and Kyle Kuzma with Corey Brewer, Larry Nance Jr. and Jordan Clarkson. They led the Lakers to their fifth straight home victory.
"During our home winning streak, we have been really, really good defensively," Walton told reporters after the game. "I was searching out a group that was willing to play that type of defense. ... We got a group in there that was committed to that end of the floor, and then we just stuck with them because they were playing hard and playing the right way."
Walton has been especially impressed with Caruso, an undrafted point guard who has been given a bigger role as injuries have sidelined starting guards Lonzo Ball and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. He had nine points, eight assists and no turnovers against the Knicks.
"I'm super happy we have him and I hope we keep him," Nance told the Los Angeles Times. "He may not look the part, but that is an NBA player. There's no doubt in my mind. It doesn't shock us. We've seen it in practice; we've seen it in training camp. Seeing it in the game is no surprise."
The Celtics didn't have Horford available when they beat the Lakers 107-96 on Nov. 8 for their 10th straight victory. Horford sat out after taking an elbow to the head two nights earlier against the Atlanta Hawks and being placed in concussion protocol.
Celtics leading scorer Kyrie Irving (24.5) was held to 19 points in the last game against Los Angeles, but he's coming off a 40-point effort in the loss to the Magic.
"I try to be motivated every game, man," he told reporters after the game. "I try to come out and put my team in a great position to win and be there for my guys. I try my hardest to be consistent."